Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Runners vs. cyclists on Putnam Trail

A story I forgot to post from last week's Riverdale Review. Enjoy. 


Runners and bikers squared off Monday night over the future of the Putnam Trail, debating the necessity of paving the path that cuts through Van Cortlandt Park.

The city received $2.3 million in federal funds to rehabilitate the Putnam Trail, which includes creating rest areas out of the former train station and restoring the pylons along the trail, but trail runners are infuriated at the idea of paving over the trail with asphalt.

Well over 40 people crammed into City Councilman G. Oliver Koppell’s office to talk with one another and also with representatives of the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation. At times the discussion heated up with back-talking and name-calling, but Koppell threatened to end the meeting early a handful of times if order wasn’t kept.

“The only people supporting this plan are cyclists,” said Michael Oliva, leader of the Save the Putnam Trail campaign, adding that he believes an independent poll of park users would find that a majority of the community would not like to see the trail paved with asphalt.

Jump below for the full story.

“Here we got something, and they’re going to take it away,” said VCTC member Kevin Shelton-Smith.

Though the track clubs and Save the Putnam Trail campaign have a similar goal, they are two separate organizations. Other track clubs and running enthusiasts were at the meeting as well. The campaign contains a handful of bicyclists, and their main goal of is preservation of the natural aura of the trail more than just preserving a place to run.

The current plan, designated in part by federal regulations, is to pave the 1.5-mile trail with 10-foot-wide asphalt through most of it, and only leave three feet of compacted dirt on the side. Runners said not only would this take away their running surface, but it would also create dangerous traffic situations with cyclists.

“If we pave 1.5 miles of trail … what’s the problem with using the other trails (in the park),” said bike user David Gellman, citing miles of unpaved trails in the rest of Van Cortlandt.

As one Van Cortlandt Track Club member pointed out, bicyclists will be able to quietly “sneak up” on runners on asphalt, which could lead to collisions on the path. Because the dirt lane is only three feet wide, people running in opposite directions will have to move out of the way of one another. If one person unexpectedly moves onto the asphalt at the same time a bicycle rides by, “chaos” could ensue, according to track club members.

The compacted dirt is also angled at a two percent slope to help water run off the asphalt. Dr. Aaron Swanson, a physical therapist for Sports Physical Therapy of New York, said in an interview Tuesday that running on a slant is like “running with one leg longer than the other,” and could damage the ankle, hip or spine over time.

However, runners said the typical street is slanted worse than two percent, and they typically just ignore that situation, adding that there are so many problems a runner can end up with that it’s not worth worrying about in the long run.

Save the Putnam Trail would like to see the path improved as much as anyone else, but with a crushed-stone or stone-dust surface, both which they say are ADA accessible and bike-friendly. The alternatives are better options for future maintenance costs and runner safety—both as a surface to run on and to keep bicyclists at safe speeds.

The parks department’s Victor Calise, the accessibility coordinator for the department, said Parks likes to go “above and beyond” ADA regulations. Crushed stone can be acceptable he admitted, but the department stays away from it because “it’s never maintained properly,” and “you will fall out of your chair,” if you hit a bump, referring to wheelchairs.

Cyclists tried to dismiss the track clubs and the campaign as minority groups and splinter organizations, but as Shelton-Smith pointed out after the meeting, VCTC has over 250 members and four of the five board members were at the meeting. The fifth board member was on a business trip in Italy. Save the Putnam Trail has collected hundreds of signatures in favor of not paving the trail.

Trail user Dart Westphal called the other trails in Van Cortlandt “spectacular” for runners, but not so much for bikes or rollerblades, and hoped the running groups could concede this path for the other groups.

But Westphal went on to call the runners “incredibly difficult,” adding that it looked like some of them weren’t even born when the original plan to pave the trail was created 20 years ago. Some of the runners, however, testified that they have been using the trail since the 1970s.

Westphal and the other cyclists say they have no “loop” to bike on, and this trail is a key element in connecting other paved trails, like along the Mosholu Parkway, to create one for the Bronx.

The Putnam Trail connects to a Westchester trail that is paved and runs north for 55 miles—but doesn’t circle back into a ‘loop’ like Westphal and others mentioned. When that path was first paved nearly a decade ago, Westchester residents feared that Bronxites would use the path to come up to their town and rob them.

The parks department said they will consider some of the changes that the campaign had suggested again—they’ve already made some concessions since a community board meeting in February—but made no promises. Koppell moderated the discussion and did not offer his opinion, saying he would prefer to wait for the time being.

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